Imagine an Alaska where bureaucrats in Juneau have the power to grant full permission for nearly any activity on state land, no questions asked. No public input or checks and balances; just a consolidation of power given to political appointees sipping coffee in a Juneau conference room.
That is the destructive power of House Bill 77, an insidious bill being pushed by special interests hoping to get around the “red tape” known as our constitutional rights as Alaskans.
Introduced last year, HB77 is a broad piece of legislation that would give the Alaska Department of Natural Resources unprecedented power over natural resource decisions by eliminating current safeguards in law.
Thankfully, the bill stalled in the state Senate in the final days of the legislative session. But, based on the governor’s recent statewide radio comments, it’s clear that the bill will be back in January and will contain all of the same provisions that made the proposed legislation so unpopular in the first place.
In all, the bill contains nearly 50 sections. It tackles numerous unrelated purposes and is difficult to summarize briefly. But understanding how this bad bill will change state law is important to any Alaskan who cherishes hunting, fishing and enjoying and living on state land.
First, HB 77 would change the law to authorize DNR to grant “general” permits for essentially any activity on state land. It provides almost no limits or qualifications for this expansion of authority, and trumps any other law on the books, including any existing safeguards or requirements. Such general permits — including those related to mining — would be subject to little (or no) public participation and agency deliberation.
The bill also takes several direct steps to limit public participation in many DNR decisions. Multiple sections limit who can make appeals to the agency or even to a court.
While the specifics vary throughout the bill, it generally attempts to block appeals and exclude members of the public if they cannot prove a financial stake or real estate interest involved in the action. The bill also imposes more rigid pleading requirements, which could prohibit even directly affected individuals from appealing to DNR if they have not taken certain technical steps.
Under HB 77, only federal, state, or local government entities could apply to DNR to reserve water. This would extinguish existing rights and investments held by non-governmental organizations and tribes on several streams in Alaska where fisheries are in conflict with mineral development.
By authorizing infinite extensions of temporary water use permits, the bill makes an end-run around traditional water rights, allowing indefinite appropriations of water without any criteria for approval, such as not harming fish or habitat, or the ability for public input. It prohibits and retroactively revokes existing applications for instream flow reservations (a device to protect natural water flows for fish, transportation, water quality and recreation).
Perhaps worst of all, HB 77 could amount to one of the largest state land giveaways in Alaska history. It would authorize appointed bureaucrats in Juneau to permanently give away state land to private developers, in the hopes that the development would benefit the state. It does not require any guarantee that the hoped-for benefit would actually occur.
The bill’s purpose is clear — to make it easier to develop mega-projects by minimizing public oversight. Alaskans have a right to meaningful participation when deciding to develop our state’s natural resources. HB 77 sets out to eliminate that meaningful participation while the government asks Alaskans to take a passive role and trust they will make the best decisions for the state’s land, water, fish and game.
Every worthwhile Alaskan argues about development and conservation, but we can all agree that giving away state land, elevating the rights of industry over humanity and hoping for castaway scraps of corporate benevolence will not benefit the Great Land we call home.
Please consider reaching out to your elected leaders. HB 77 is a destructive menace.
Brooks Range Council Chairman John Gaedeke is a second-generation Brooks Range guide, raised at Iniakuk Lake Lodge and along the Alatna River corridor. He splits his time between Fairbanks and the Brooks Range.